Guyana ‘fit to fight’ launderers

-President tells CFATF conference

President David Granger addressing the CFATF conference yesterday. (DPI photo)

Warning that the Caribbean is an attractive ‘paradise’ for money-launderers, tax-evaders and assorted transnational criminal cartels, President David Granger yesterday said that Guyana has already laid the foundation to protect itself against financial crimes.

“Guyana is fit to fight. It embarked on the path of passing robust regulations and legislation to protect its financial system from financing unlawful activities seventeen years ago”, Granger said while delivering the feature address at the opening ceremony of the 46th Plenary and Working Group Meetings of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF).

The meeting which is being held at the Georgetown Marriott Hotel opened on Sunday and is set to conclude today. Those participating in the meetings represent the twenty-five states of the Caribbean Basin that make up the CFATF.

Granger informed that in its quest to keep out money launderers  Guyana had passed the Money-Laundering (Prevention) Act 2000; the Anti-Money Laundering and the Countering of the Financing of Terrorism Act 2009; the Anti-Money Laundering and the Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Act 2010; the Anti-Money Laundering and the Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Act 2015; and the Anti-Money Laundering and the Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2015.

He stated that progressively, the legislation has corrected deficiencies in the AML-CFT regime and allowed for the improvement of compliance with the Task Force’s standards.

“The appropriate agencies – the Bank of Guyana, the Financial Intelligence Unit and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions – have been empowered with the authority and autonomy and equipped with the technical and institutional means to discharge their functions under our anti-money laundering and the countering of the financing of terrorism legislation”, he said.

Earlier, Granger told the participants and invited guests that the Caribbean today is fighting a war against financial ‘privateers’ to preserve the integrity of its institutions and to counter money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.

According to Granger, the region’s fragmented jurisdictions scattered over vast sea space, with countless cays, coves and islets, makes it an ideal target for financial crimes which “have the potential of disrupting our economies, corrupting officials, subverting our institutions, perverting our youth and spawning frightening levels of crime and violence in society”.

He said that the Task Force’s recommendations are necessary to insulate the Region’s financial sector from the crimes of money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.  The Task Force’s recommendations can help to insulate the Region’s economies from contamination by ‘dirty’ money and by protecting the integrity of our financial sector from the risks associated with ill-gotten gains, he noted.

“The Task Force’s recommendations will help, also, to cultivate a stable financial sector that will allow for the facilitation of international trade and investment and enhance the interconnectedness between the Region’s financial sector and the global banking system in order to prevent our banks from being blacklisted”, the president said while adding that Guyana is honoured to be hosting the meetings.

“The presence of so many distinguished Ministers, Attorneys-General and officers at this meeting is evidence of the importance that Caribbean governments attach to the Task Force’s core responsibility for the peer review process of the mutual evaluation programme”, he said.

Many challenges

Attorney General (AG) of the Turks and Caicos Islands  Rhondalee Braithwaite-Knowles who is also the Chairperson of the CFATF touched on some of the organization’s successes and also made mention of the foreign-funded training sessions which will assist in protecting the region’s financial sector.

She stated that the region over the years has had to confront the challenges of complying with the international standards and in many cases “have endured the harsh criticism and impacts of loss of our international reputation as being deemed as having weak anti-money laundering and combatting the financing of terrorism regimes which pose threats to the international system”.

According to Braithwaite-Knowles the impact on the region’s many small and developing economies has been very negative. “These have had implications for our small and fragile economies yet we were not daunted. We put our shoulders to the task of reforming our regimes. Got ourselves off various lists by international bodies…” she added.

CFATF Deputy Chairman and Guyana’s AG, Basil Williams SC in his remarks said that the meeting represents a valuable opportunity for Guyana to lead the regional drive in the global fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

“Left unchecked the predations of transnational criminal organizations, terrorism financing networks and increasingly importantly for this region, returning foreign terrorist fighters, have the potential to adversely impact in a significant way with peace, tranquility and…economic security of our region”, Williams said that in this regard constant vigilance is critical. He said that the plenary meetings centre on effective implementation and the highest levels of compliance with the FATF recommendation.

Williams spoke of the importance of identifying, assessing and understanding the extent of the national money laundering and terrorist financing risk and taking the necessary measures to mitigate those rights by allocating resources and implementing appropriate measures and policies through a risk-based approach.

He expressed gratitude to the CFATF Council of Ministers for unanimously supporting the work programme  for the coming year.

Meanwhile, the immediate Past Chairman and AG of Trinidad and Tobago, Faris Al-Rawi assured that CFATF is in a much better place than it was three years ago.

Noting that his country is the first of the 25 countries to go into the fourth round mutual evaluation, he said that it was the CFATF Secretariat that held Trinidad’s hand as a jurisdiction through the “vagaries and uncertainties of being first in line”.

Al-Rawi pointed out that even though the region’s jurisdictions may be well prepared for eventualities of the outcome of the fourth round evaluation, enhanced follow up exercises and International Country Risk Guide (ICRG) pooling and treatment, there are “real consequences….death by a thousand cuts and I do really encourage CFATF in the coming year to gel in a more meaningful sense to participate in the call for nations coming forward to join the review”.

Stressing that the Secretariat has to be commended for leading the way, Al-Rawi warned “if jurisdictions don’t come together to participate we are going to be denying ourselves the opportunity to be forewarned and therefore forearmed…for growth in the jurisdictional and assessor experience and we are going to miss the opportunity to be intimately informed and aware of the real issues including death by thousand cuts”.

The Executive Secretary of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), David Lewis in brief remarks stressed that the threats associated with money laundering and terrorist financing “have never been greater”. He said that the focus now is on assessing how effective countries are in dealing with these threats and said that it is pointless not to utilize legislation which has been passed. “Implemented effectively these measures will protect economies, increase competitiveness and attract foreign direct investment, lending a country a reputation as a good and safe place to do business”, he said.

He admitted that the evaluation process has been “a tough job” and as such the contributions made by CFATF to the global network should be recognized.

According to the CFATF website, the member states have agreed to implement common countermeasures to address the problem of criminal money laundering. It was established as a result of meetings convened in Aruba in May 1990 and Jamaica in November 1992.

It states that the main objective of the CFATF is to achieve effective implementation of and compliance with its recommendations to prevent and control money laundering and to combat the financing of terrorism. The Secretariat has been established as a mechanism to monitor and encourage progress to ensure full implementation of the Kingston Ministerial Declaration.

The member states are Antigua & Barbuda, Anguilla, Aruba, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Guyana, Republic of Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, the Turks & Caicos Islands, Trinidad & Tobago, and Venezuela.

Barbados will hold the next round of meetings next year.

Among the dignitaries present at yesterday’s opening ceremony were Ministers of the Government, members of the Diplomatic Corps, Speaker of the National Assembly Dr. Barton Scotland and CFATF Executive Secretary Calvin Wilson.

They were all treated to a cultural presentation which include songs from Mariam Williams and the Success Elementary Choir, a dance and a steel pan rendition.

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